The Champion

ACM H Moolgavkar



ACM Moolgavkar


One of the most remarkable people I have met and closely interacted with must undoubtedly be Late Ex-Air Chief Marshal Hrishikesh, aka Arvind Moolgavkar, PVSM, MVC, LOM. (Param Vishishtha Seva Medal, Maha Vir Chakra and Legion of Merit)

Moolgavkar was the Air Chief Marshal of the Indian Air Force from February 1 1976, till August 31 1978. When he was to retire, the retirement age was being raised from 58 to 60, but this upright officer said not for me. The succeeding ACM’s will get that benefit. We came in contact with him through my grandfather’s friend, P.N. alias Baburao Patwardhan, his colleague in Royal Air Force. Along with my father, I met him for the first time around 1984-85. My first reaction was just of awe. He was straight like a ramrod and extremely handsome even when nearly 65 years old.

For the next many years, I never missed a single opportunity to meet him whenever I was in Pune. Yoga and physical fitness fanatic, he maintained excellent health right into his 90s. He had a way with machines and took delight in tinkering with cars/scooters etc. He was a fanatic about his vehicles, as we would typically expect the Parsi to do. But above and beyond all this — he was an embodiment of old school courtesy and grace. It was embarrassing when he would insist on receiving and seeing off guests, including a nobody like me, at the gate of his house!


Swift Offset, Moolgavkar, Marathe,

Around 1995, our company had ambitious plans for expansion and subsequent listing on the OTC Exchange. Hence the Board had to be expanded with outside directors, and the first name we thought of was Moolgavkar. When I sent him minutes of the first board meeting, he called me and said he would like to protest. His name had to mentioned as ACM H. Moolgavkar, PVSM. Now we civilians don’t realise the importance of such steadfastness, but he made sure that I incorporate that change and never commit such mistakes again. He was a strict disciplinarian and wouldn’t tolerate even the shortest deviation. He would not do it & expected others to follow suit.

Our board meetings were generally held once in a quarter at around 11 am. But he would arrive at our office at 10 am. He used to come to Mumbai one day before, stay with his sister (Mrs Parpia) at Malabar Hill and come for the meeting. The time between 10 to 11 am. used to be great fun. He would narrate loads & loads of stories, and we never wanted that one hour to end. During this one hour, I was allowed to take the liberty of addressing him as uncle, but once it was 11 am, it was all protocol.

I can’t stop myself from sharing a hilarious incident that I remember of him. Once there was a report in the newspaper that Moolgavkar had shot someone outside his Bungalow, and there was a police complaint against him. There was our board meeting only a few days later. So I casually asked him, uncle, what was the problem? He just shot up like a volcano, (हा मनुष्य अत्यंत शिवराळ; प्रत्येक वाक्यात २-४ शिव्या आल्याशिवाय वाक्य पूर्णच होत नसे); म्हणाले, साला xxxxx माझ्या बंगल्याच्या कंपाऊंडशी उभा राहून xxx आत मुतत होता. काढली सरळ एअरगन आणि मारला छर्रा त्याच्या ढुंगणात. काही मेला वगैरे नसता… Naturally, there was a police complaint against me, but it will be sorted out.

Just after India won the Kargil war, we had a board meeting. He was so excited when he reached our office. He kept saying – the myth has been shattered. After calming down, he told us that children in Pakistan are taught their one jawan equals 10 of India. He added, we had hordes of adversities, namely the enemy was at a vantage point, no air force support as PM had not sanctioned crossing of LOC. He considered that day as his most important day of military service. We were so overwhelmed that we earnestly requested him to talk about this event at Nashik and Mumbai. He readily agreed, and though he did most of his schooling in England, he had made an earnest effort to master Marathi post his retirement and, to our surprise, delivered those lectures in chaste Marathi. 

Then around, maybe, the year 2005, when our plans of OTC listing etc., had flown out of the window, he was the first to stand up and say that I don’t think we are adding any value to the company & all the independent directors should step down. Then some days later, I received a call from him, and he invited me over with my brother, Vasant, to Pune for some send-off lunch. He took us both to RSI @ Camp, and when he realised that the brand of beer he had asked them to keep chilled for that afternoon (one day in advance) was not available, he just lost his top. The entire staff must have shat in their pants that day. Then someone arranged that brand from outside, and gradually he settled down but still was fuming inside for a long time. Then he decided not to have lunch there as a protest and took us to a nearby Irani Cafe for a Mutton Biryani. Even whilst we were there, he apologised for the beer mess-up at RSI.

Moolgavkar was forever concerned with the lack of defence consciousness in India’s top leadership. He regaled us with this story of Jawaharlal Nehru and his naivete.

After Independence, he was the operational commander of the air operations in Kashmir. The air action in strafing and bombing the vehicles of raiders between Baramulla and Srinagar in October 1947 saved Srinagar and the Kashmir valley from falling to Pakistan. The use of airpower had a demoralising effect on the raiders since they had no air support and no anti-aircraft guns. By all reckoning, the attack and the capture of the Zozila pass on November 1, 1948, was a turning point in the battle for Ladakh. But for this success, Ladakh would have been lost to Pakistan. Close air support under (then Wing Commander) Moolgavkar played a crucial role in the eventual victory.

During this conflict, Prime Minister Nehru happened to visit Kashmir. Moolgavkar briefed him about the air offensive India was adopting. Nehru asked him what kind of bombs we were dropping, and the honest answer was one’s with maximums poundage to cause extensive damage. Nehru retorted, no, no, you must drop minimum poundage bombs.

Moolgavkar was aghast but still managed courage and said, Prime Minister, sir, we are in the state of war, and all efforts must be made to strike hard. This is not some civil conflict. But Nehru was unconvinced.

Then in the early 1960s, Moolgavkar was India’s defence attache in London. Our government was keen to purchase modern guided missiles for the air force at that time. While Nehru was visiting the UK, Moolgavkar arranged with the firm concerned to display a short demonstration film for the prime minister. Electronic display systems were not invented, and a projector was set up at the Indian high commission. A senior director made it a point to be present out of respect for the prime minister. The short film was very realistic and ended with a loud bang as a missile shot down an ‘enemy’ plane in a cloud of flame. Nehru got up in a rage and shouted, ‘Very violent! I will have nothing to do with these sort of weapons,‘ and stormed out of the room, and Vijayalaxmi Pandit ran behind him muttering पंडितजी नाराज हो गये. They were followed by his daughter Indira. The director of the firm didn’t know what hit him.

However, a few minutes later, Indira returned to the room, apologised for what had happened and thanked the director for the trouble he had taken to arrange the display. She also told Moolgavkar that she would try and convince her father.

Another incidence happened immediately after he took over as ACM. A file was put upon his table for sanctioning buying of aircraft from the USSR. Moolgavkar realised that the standard protocol of sending inspection team etc., had not been followed, and he refused to sign. The defence minister of that time, Mr Bansi Lal, called him up and said, मार्शल साब, आपको क्या तकलिफ है? सब तय हो गया है, आप सिर्फ साईन कर दो

Moolgavkar refused to budge from his stand. The next day Mr R.K. Dhawan called and asked him to sign the file. He kept refusing. Hence Dhawan said, then you will have to meet madam. The appointment was decided for the next day morning at 8.30 am. During a meeting with PM Indira Gandhi, she asked, what is the problem? Moolgavkar replied, madam, we are a sovereign nation and not a client state of the USSR. We must inspect the aircraft before the actual purchase. PM closed her eyes for a few seconds and said, Marshal, stick to your gun, don’t sign. Finally, an inspection team was sent before the supply.

His tenure as Air Force Chief coincided with the Emergency. Post the Emergency; he was one of the courageous few who testified before the Shah Commission giving details of how Sanjay Gandhi interfered in aircraft procurement. No wonder he was disliked by the ‘dynasty’, and his immense talents were ill utilised post-retirement.


Moolgavkar Book

Moolgavkar was an avid flyer and continued to fly even as an air marshal. He flew almost 67 types of aircraft in his long career, and he was very proud of this fact. His daughter, Jyoti Rai, forced him to narrate his experiences, and she published a biography of her father – Leading from the Cockpit: A Fighter Pilot’s Story. The 220-page book contains 200 rare pictures from the Moolgavkars album and gives us a glimpse into India’s Air Force History. It also carries excerpts from his flying logbooks.



He remained active almost right till the end. I was privileged to have met him several times and enjoyed his acute intellect and insights. My tributes to a born warrior and excellent human being. He left for heavenly abode on April 9 2015. 


Moolgavkar Funeral


Take a bow! Late Ex ACM H Moolgavkar, PVSM, MVC, LOM


@ Yeshwant Marathe


Leave a comment

Sadhana Sathaye

11 months ago

Inspiring. Happy to know about such hard core Indians in service👏👏🙏🙏🙏

Jayant Sathe

11 months ago

Yashwant, you have done a wonderful job. A great tribute to a great man.


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